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How happy is your pet? The Problem of subjectivity in the assessment of companion animal welfare



The ability to evaluate the welfare of non-human animals accurately and objectively is influenced by a variety of factors including the nature of our relationships with them. Subjective biases in the perception of an animal’s quality of life can have either positive or negative consequences for its welfare and are likely to be particularly exaggerated in the case of companion animals, such as dogs, cats and other pet species, with which people tend to form strong anthropomorphic, attachment-based relationships. The consequences of these subjective biases are likely to be further exacerbated by the fact that many of the physical and behavioural attributes that humans find appealing, and have selected for, in companion animals, are inherently detrimental to their welfare. Using a range of examples, this paper explores some of the complex ways in which anthropomorphism and subjectivity can cloud our ability to make reliable judgements concerning the welfare of companion animals, even in the face of seemingly obvious and overt indicators of pain and suffering. © 2019 Universities Federation for Animal Welfare The Old School, Brewhouse Hill, Wheathampstead, Hertfordshire AL4 8AN, UK.
© 2019 Universities Federation for Animal Welfare
The Old School, Brewhouse Hill, Wheathampstead,
Hertfordshire AL4 8AN, UK
Animal Welfare 2019, 28: 57-66
ISSN 0962-7286
doi: 10.7120/09627286.28.1.057
How happy is your pet? The problem of subjectivity in the assessment of
companion animal welfare
JA Serpell
School of Veterinary Medicine, University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia PA 19104, USA; email:
The ability to evaluate the welfare of non-human animals accurately and objectively is influenced by a variety of factors including the
nature of our relationships with them. Subjective biases in the perception of an animal’s quality of life can have either positive or
negative consequences for its welfare and are likely to be particularly exaggerated in the case of companion animals, such as dogs,
cats and other pet species, with which people tend to form strong anthropomorphic, attachment-based relationships. The conse-
quences of these subjective biases are likely to be further exacerbated by the fact that many of the physical and behavioural attrib-
utes that humans find appealing, and have selected for, in companion animals, are inherently detrimental to their welfare. Using a
range of examples, this paper explores some of the complex ways in which anthropomorphism and subjectivity can cloud our ability
to make reliable judgements concerning the welfare of companion animals, even in the face of seemingly obvious and overt indica-
tors of pain and suffering.
Keywords:animal welfare, anthropomorphism, companion animals, health, pets, subjectivity
Detachment and objectivity are values that inform how
science, ideally, should be practiced. When attempting to
uncover truths about some aspect of the natural world, scien-
tists are expected to be aware of, and to attempt to eliminate,
personal biases, prejudices, and a priori commitments while
also detaching themselves emotionally from their subject
matter (Howard 1985). In practice, of course, true objectivity
in science is aspirational rather than fully achievable.
Scientists are only human and, like everyone else, may find
it difficult to remain detached and objective when they have
a strong personal interest in their object of study.
An illustration of the nature of this problem is provided by
Fraser et al (1997) who posed a hypothetical scenario
involving two dog owners who meet while walking their
dogs. One of these owners:
...had grown up in a small family that valued health,
safety and orderly, disciplined behaviour. The dog of
this owner received regular veterinary care, two meals a
day of low-fat dog food, and was walked on a leash.
The other owner had grown up in a large community
that valued conviviality, sharing of resources and close
contact with the natural world. This dog (the owner’s
third — the first two had been killed by cars) had burrs
in its coat, was fed generously but sporadically, and had
never worn a collar in its life. Each owner, judging
quality of life from very different viewpoints, felt sorry
for the other’s dog
The obvious point of the story is that each person tends to
view the quality of life of non-human animals through the
lens of his or her own subjective beliefs, attitudes, and
values, and that these inevitably colour perceptions of the
animals’ welfare. The conventional welfare scientist’s
response to this dilemma is to focus on the accurate and
objective measurement of things that are likely to be
relevant to the welfare of these two dogs — eg regularity
of meals, levels of physical restraint, risks of injury, and so
on — while also acknowledging that the ultimate determi-
nation of how well or poorly each dog is faring is going to
be largely subjective, since it will depend on the indi-
vidual, and potentially biased, perceptions and beliefs of
whoever is making the judgement (Mason & Mendl 1993;
Fraser 1995). If this is the case, however, it raises
important questions regarding the particular factors that
may interfere with our ability to recognise and prioritise
the things that actually matter to the animals, and hence
make sensible and effective recommendations to improve
their welfare. In Fraser et al’s (1997) example, the
emphasis is on differences in personal values — health,
safety and discipline versus laissez faire communal life
and contact with nature. The current discussion will focus
instead on the influence of past and current relationships
with animals, particularly companion animals, on our
ability to make objective assessments of their welfare.
Universities Federation for Animal Welfare Science in the Service of Animal Welfare
58 Serpell
Human-animal relationships as obstacles to
The tendency to attribute ‘minds’ or mental states to others
(‘theory of mind’) is thought to have evolved as a social
adaptation that allows normal adult humans to use intro-
spection and self-knowledge as a model for understanding
and anticipating the feelings and behaviour of other humans
(Humphrey 1983; Mithen 1996). Since humans are so
intensely social, however, their desire for connection often
leads them to imbue non-human as well as human others
with human-like traits (Epley et al 2008; Waytz et al 2010).
This predisposition is generally termed ‘anthropomor-
phism’ and is usually defined as the tendency to attribute
human-like mental capacities, such as intentionality,
emotions, and cognition, to non-human agents and entities
(Epley et al 2008). Anthropomorphic attributions also affect
the moral status given to non-humans. Beings which are
believed to possess human-like minds are typically afforded
greater moral consideration and better treatment than those
deemed to have lesser mental capacities (Gray et al 2012).
Not surprisingly, the tendency to anthropomorphise is
particularly strong in relation to non-human animals
(henceforth ‘animals’), especially those that are phyloge-
netically close to, or which resemble, humans either phys-
ically or behaviourally (Burghardt & Herzog 1989; Plous
1993; Serpell 2004). Anthropomorphism also appears to
be amplified by social relationships and attachments with
particular animals, such as pets, especially if these attach-
ments develop early in life (Myers & Saunders 2002).
Numerous studies have demonstrated associations
between childhood pet ownership and the development of
positive attitudes and practices toward animals in
adulthood, including an increased likelihood of owning
companion animals in the future, more sympathetic views
on the treatment of both companion and non-companion
animals, greater willingness to support animal protection
causes, and a propensity to avoid eating certain animal-
based food products (Serpell 1981; Paul & Serpell 1993;
Paul 2000; Rothgerber & Mican 2014). Studies of veteri-
nary students further indicate that early affiliative relation-
ships with animals are strong predictors of later
professional orientations. For instance, veterinary students
who grow up with household dogs and cats are more likely
to gravitate toward careers in small animal practice, while
those who grow up with horses and ponies are more
strongly inclined toward equine practice (Serpell 2005). It
is also likely that anthropomorphism — in this case, the
ability to attribute human-like social motivations and
needs to companion animals — is what ultimately enables
these animals to provide their owners with the widely
reported psychological and physical benefits associated
with pet ownership (Serpell 2003; Epley et al 2008).
Their apparent ability to trigger ‘innate’ parental motiva-
tions, further suggests that companion animals, or at least
some companion animals, may act as supernormal stimuli.
The term ‘supernormal stimulus’ was first coined by the
Dutch ethologist and Nobel laureate, Niko Tinbergen, to
describe the tendency of animals (including humans) to
display open-ended preferences for biologically relevant
stimuli that are more extreme or exaggerated than would
occur in nature (Tinbergen 1951). For example, Tinbergen
observed that, when offered the choice between a normal
egg and an artificial, supersized one, nesting oystercatchers
(Haematopus ostralegus) will attempt to incubate the unnat-
urally large egg in preference to their own normally sized
one. Extrapolating from this original concept, various
authors subsequently concluded that the intrinsically
appealing, anthropomorphic or paedomorphic features of
things like teddy bears, Disney cartoon characters, and
many pets, possess supernormal stimulus properties that
appear ‘designed’ to elicit human parenting or nurturing
behaviour (Lorenz 1943; Gould 1979; Frank & Frank 1982;
Serpell 1996; Archer 1997; Chersini et al 2018). In some
cases, this idea has been used to support the theory that pet-
keeping is essentially a form of social parasitism (eg Archer
1997, 2011) in which the animals are seen as exploiting a
novel ecological niche provided by humans’ inflexible
parenting instincts. Others have proposed a less one-sided,
more mutualistic interpretation in which both species poten-
tially benefit from the relationship, though clearly not in the
same ways (Serpell 1996; Serpell & Paul 2011). For the
animals, the material and biological advantages of this asso-
ciation are relatively obvious. For the humans, a growing
body of evidence suggests that interactions with companion
animals stimulate fundamental attachment processes
mediated by the release of the bonding hormone, oxytocin,
which also appears to mitigate psychosocial stress (Julius
et al 2013; Serpell et al 2017).
Anthropomorphism and paedomorphism also have conse-
quences for animal welfare that may be either positive or
negative depending on the circumstances. On the positive
side, perceiving an animal to have a mind like one’s own
implies that it is capable of experiencing conscious
feelings and emotions, and that it is therefore worthy of
greater moral consideration (Bastian et al 2012; Gray et al
2012). Clearly, in this context, anthropomorphism has the
potential to arouse greater sensitivity to perceived welfare
problems in animals, thereby making it less likely that
these problems will be ignored or overlooked. Lockwood
(2005), for example, has noted that animal protection
supporters and activists in the USA are usually either
current or former pet owners. Similarly, members of the
pet-owning public have a tendency to react with moral
outrage toward activities such as dog- or cat-eating,
commercial breeding of pets, or the use of dogs and cats in
biomedical research, while typically accepting the similar
treatment of non-pet species (Serpell 2009). As previously
suggested, anthropomorphism may also serve as an
important motivator; encouraging people to try and help
animals by becoming ethical vegetarians, animal activists,
veterinarians, animal welfare scientists, and so on.
Whether or not this greater concern for animal well-being
among pet owners accurately and objectively reflects the
animals’ true quality of life, however, is somewhat ques-
tionable. Other animals clearly have different needs,
© 2019 Universities Federation for Animal Welfare
Assessment of welfare in companion animals 59
interests and cognitive capacities than humans, so using a
human or child-like model as a guide to their welfare is
likely to lead to at least some level of misunderstanding.
For example, anthropomorphic attributions imply that
animals, like humans, are capable of premeditated inten-
tional acts and that they can therefore, in principle, be held
responsible for those acts (Waytz et al 2010). An example of
the potential negative welfare consequences of this effect is
the widespread belief among dog owners that their pets are
capable of secondary emotions, such as guilt when they
steal food, raid the trash, or soil the carpet while the owner
is out of the house. Current evidence suggests that the
majority of owners interpret the dog’s ‘guilty look’ when
they return home as evidence that it is fully aware of its
transgression and therefore culpable. In reality, the results
of controlled experiments suggest that dogs respond with
characteristic guilty-looking behaviour when scolded by
their owners regardless of whether or not they are actually
guilty of any misdeed (Horowitz 2009). In such cases, close
relationships and anthropomorphic attributions lead owners
to subjectively overestimate the cognitive capacities of their
pets and to punish them accordingly.
When they predispose owners to prioritise the quantity of
an animal’s life over its quality, strong anthropomorphic
attachments can also give rise to severe and prolonged
discomfort and distress in companion animals. A growing
problem in small animal veterinary practice is the propen-
sity of owners to reject euthanasia for terminally ill and
suffering pets in favour of prolonging the animal’s life at
any cost (Sandøe et al 2016; Knesl et al 2017). While this
is partly a consequence of veterinary medical advances
and the increasing availability of previously inaccessible
treatment options, it also reflects the tendency of owners
to project essentially human notions of the value or
‘sanctity’ of life onto their pets rather than considering the
animal’s perspective. As Sandøe et al (2016) point out:
The human attachment to a companion animal can be
strong and highly emotionally charged, making it difficult
for some owners to be objective when it comes to making
decisions about their companion’s treatment
Objective evaluations of animal welfare become particu-
larly problematic when the traits that tend to enhance
people’s attachments to animals are themselves associated
with compromised health and welfare.
In sickness and in health: the dark side of
Some years ago, my son returned home with a three-week
old, tail-less kitten that he found abandoned in the street.
Fortunately, my veterinary contacts enabled us to obtain the
necessary advice and assistance to care for such a young and
helpless kitten, and after 2–3 weeks of bottle-feeding we were
able to wean him successfully onto solid food. During this
process, however, it became apparent that Henry (as we
called him) was not a normal kitten. In addition to carrying
the tail-less or ‘Manx’ gene, which is associated with spina
bifida, it turned out that he had also been infected in utero
with feline panleukopenia and was, as a result, suffering from
an untreatable neurological condition known as cerebellar
hypoplasia (CH), or ‘wobbly cat syndrome’. This meant that
he could scarcely walk more than a few steps without falling
over, displayed uncontrollable head tremors whenever he
tried to focus on anything, and had great difficulty using his
litter tray. At this point, we began to have some fraught
discussions about whether it would be kinder to euthanase
Henry rather than let him live with such profound disabilities.
The primary arguments in favour of the euthanasia option
were the potential for future suffering, and the fact that he
would never get any better or be able to engage in most of the
normal, species-typical activities that could be said to define
a cat’s nature or telos (sensu Rollin 1993). The argument
against hinged entirely on our subjective impression that, in
spite of his disability, Henry was not suffering anything
worse than periodic and transient inconvenience, and occa-
sional minor discomfort from his condition.
The second argument eventually prevailed, and Henry ulti-
mately developed into one of the most engaging and
rewarding cats we have ever lived with. His physical
disabilities, however, did not improve. If anything, they
became worse, at least with respect to consequences. His
lack of a tail and his long hind legs associated with the
Manx gene made his gait very unstable, and his larger size
meant that when he fell or blundered into chairs and table
legs the impact was more severe. He could not jump or
climb, and his attempts to chase toys or flies invariably
ended badly. Nevertheless, he appeared to be relatively
undaunted by his affliction. He learned to ‘fall’ through the
cat door to gain access to the back garden, he dominated
the family dog who was many times his size, embedded
his claws in people’s legs when he wanted to be picked up,
and never turned down an opportunity to play, despite the
often painful consequences. For a cat, he was also
intensely human-centered and sociable. He was unafraid
of strangers, seemed to enjoy being the centre of attention,
and appeared to like being picked up and cuddled. The
idea that we once seriously considered euthanasing him
began to seem callous and unethical though this
opinion was not necessarily shared by our friends and
neighbours, some of whom clearly believed that it was
cruel and self-indulgent of us to keep Henry alive.
It turns out that our experience with Henry was not an
uncommon one. A Google or YouTube search for ‘wobbly
cat’ will usher one into a sort of parallel universe
containing countless affectionate videos and heart-
warming stories involving cats with CH. Without
exception, the owners of these animals describe them as
the most endearing cats they have ever owned, while
animal shelters and cat rescue groups who post videos of
CH cats online seem to be able to find homes for them
instantly while, at the same time, having great difficulty
adopting out large numbers of ostensibly normal, healthy
and homeless cats. So, what exactly is going on here? Why
are some people, including myself, apparently drawn to
these abnormal and physically compromised cats?
Animal Welfare 2019, 28: 57-66
doi: 10.7120/09627286.28.1.057
60 Serpell
One possible answer is that CH cats are, in fact, more affec-
tionate and friendly than normal cats, perhaps due to some
additional neurological change associated with cerebellar
hypoplasia or because of the effects of enhanced early
handling and socialisation. Certainly, in Henry’s case, he
received more attention in early life than a normal kitten
would have, and this may have increased his overall level of
sociability. One reason to question this as a general expla-
nation, however, is that the human affinity for sick and
disabled pets appears to extend far beyond wobbly cats (see,
for example, Segal 2011). In the animal-sheltering world, it
is widely recognised that it is often easier to find homes for
animals with medical problems or histories of abuse than it
is to adopt the normal ones. In some parts of the USA, for
instance, particular animal rescue groups specialise in
adopting and providing home hospice care for shelter cats
with end-stage renal disease. Since these cats would ordi-
narily be candidates for immediate euthanasia, this places
shelter veterinarians in the egregious position of being able
to re-home the terminally ill cats while having to euthanase
the healthy ones for lack of adoptive homes (B Watson,
personal communication 2018). I am not aware of any
studies of the motivations underlying this type of phenom-
enon, but it appears to be driven by individuals who find the
experience of caring for sick cats more rewarding than
caring for healthy ones, presumably because the former are,
by definition, more dependent and therefore more in need of
care. Nor is this propensity restricted to cats.
In a recent paper, Sandøe et al (2017) investigated the
human motivations underlying the continued (and in some
cases, growing) popularity of dog breeds that tend to suffer
from health and welfare problems due to the effects of
extreme conformation and/or genetically damaging
breeding practices. The survey was conducted on a random,
representative sample of Danish dog owners, and included
the owners of three affected breeds (Cavalier King Charles
spaniel, Chihuahua, and French bulldog) with extreme
phenotypes and/or genetic histories associated with health
problems, in addition to one unaffected breed (Cairn terrier)
that is similar in size but otherwise average in terms of its
health. A number of interesting findings emerged from this
study, but two are particularly relevant to the present discus-
sion. First, owners of the three affected breeds were more
attached to their dogs than were the owners of the healthier
Cairn terriers. Second, the perceived quality of owners’ rela-
tionships with these dogs was marginally positively associ-
ated (P< 0.07) with the number of frequently occurring
health problems they experienced. As with the CH cats, it
appears that these Danish dog owners showed a tendency to
prefer the less healthy dogs with the more extreme pheno-
types to the relatively normal and healthier ones.
Such preferences appear to apply to behavioural as well as
physical problems. In a series of studies, McMillan and
colleagues examined the behavioural characteristics of dogs
that had been rescued and re-homed from various chal-
lenging life situations: eg former breeder dogs from so-
called ‘puppy mills’ (McMillan et al 2011), dogs rescued
from ‘hoarding’ situations (McMillan et al 2016), and dogs
that had been victims of serious physical abuse (McMillan
et al 2015). In every case, these dogs exhibited a signifi-
cantly higher prevalence of certain behavioural problems,
particularly those associated with fear and anxiety, than
matched comparison samples of ‘normal’ pet dogs. In
several cases, these differences in behaviour were substan-
tial. Puppy mill ex-breeder dogs, for instance, were between
5 and 7 times more likely to display fear in response to
strangers, unfamiliar dogs, and non-social stimuli than were
the current pets (McMillan et al 2011). Yet, despite these
signs of chronic fear and anxiety, their owners’ evaluations
of their relationships with these dogs were overwhelmingly
positive. When McMillan questioned them regarding their
level of satisfaction with the dogs, and whether they would
consider adopting another dog of the same type in the
future, their responses to the first question were between
86 and 98% ‘extremely satisfied’ and only 0–2% ‘not
satisfied’, and when asked whether they would consider
adopting the same type of dog in the future, 93–100%
agreed that they would (McMillan 2014, 2016) (see
Figure 1). In other words, the experience of caring for these
often severely emotionally disabled dogs, far from being a
deterrent to future ownership, was apparently an added
incentive, at least for these individuals.
Evidence of the prevalence of fear- and anxiety-related
behaviour problems in the pet dog population suggests that
such incentives may be relatively widespread. The Canine
Behavioral Assessment and Research Questionnaire (C-
BARQ) database at the University of Pennsylvania has
been collecting standardised behavioural evaluations of pet
dogs from their owners via an online portal since 2005 and
has now amassed more than 50,000 such assessments. In
addition to addressing a variety of other aspects of
behaviour, the C-BARQ includes four separate fear-related
subscales fear of strangers, fear of other dogs, fear of
non-social stimuli, and touch sensitivity — with scores
ranging from zero (absence of fearful responses) to 4
(extreme fearfulness). The population distribution of scores
for these different subscales tend to be skewed toward zero,
and yet between 14 and 18% of owners report that their
dogs display fearfulness in the moderate to extreme range
(scores of 2–4) in one or more of these contexts. More to
the point, many owners do not appear to regard their dogs’
extreme fear as being a problem. Among the background
information owners are asked to provide before completing
the C-BARQ is the question: ‘Are you currently experi-
encing any problems with your dog’s behaviour or
temperament?’ The offered response options are ‘no
problems’, ‘only minor problems’, ‘moderate problems’
and ‘serious problems.’ As might be expected, owners’
overall reported levels of perceived problems tend increase
in proportion to the severity of their dogs’ fear-related
behaviour (see Figure 2). However, it is also clear that there
are large numbers of outliers — large numbers of dogs with
moderate to extreme fearfulness scores on the C-BARQ
whose owners report experiencing ‘only minor problems’
or ‘no problems’ at all with their behaviour.
© 2019 Universities Federation for Animal Welfare
Assessment of welfare in companion animals 61
Animal Welfare 2019, 28: 57-66
doi: 10.7120/09627286.28.1.057
Figure 1
Willingness of adopters of dogs with extreme anxiety/fearful behaviour to consider re-adopting dogs of the same type again (F McMillan,
unpublished survey data, reproduced with permission).
Relationship between levels of fear/anxiety in pet dogs, as measured by the C-BARQ, and owner-reported experience of behavioural
problems (Boxplots showing medians, 10th, 25th, 75th and 90th percentiles and outliers).
Figure 2
62 Serpell
This result is reminiscent of those obtained in another
study of dogs suffering from brachycephalic obstructive
airway syndrome (BOAS). In this case, owners of
285 dogs belonging to various brachycephalic breeds were
asked whether their dog currently had, or had a history of,
breathing problems. Separately, the dogs were then
diagnosed as ‘affected’ or unaffected’ with BOAS using
various medical criteria including the owners’ reports of
respiratory difficulties and noisy breathing in four
different standardised situations. More than half (58%) of
the owners of the affected dogs reported that their dog did
not have any breathing problems (Packer et al 2012). The
authors conclude that the disparity between the dogs’
severe clinical symptoms, and their owners’ perceptions of
no breathing problems would be likely to lead to these
animals suffering indefinitely due to lack of veterinary
treatment. Furthermore, in a recent, separate survey of
2,168 owners of brachycephalic dogs, Packer et al (2018)
report that many owners, when asked what they would
recommend most about their breed, freely admitted to
liking their dogs’ increased level of dependence on them
due to health and conformation problems.
Just as modern dairy cows or broiler chickens are the
products of artificial selection for high milk yield and rapid
growth, respectively (Duncan 2001; Rushen 2001), so
companion animals or at least some companion
animals increasingly are products of selection for traits
that make them more emotionally appealing to people. For
many humans, that appeal lies primarily in their ability to
mimic and in some cases exaggerate the infantile cues that
stimulate parental nurturing responses and behaviour. The
characteristic physical features of such animals — their
small body size, short limbs relative to body size, soft skin
and fur, large eyes relative to head size, domed foreheads,
flattened muzzles, drooping ears, and so on — are perceived
as ‘cute’ and tend to elicit care-giving motivations from
people (Serpell 1996, 2003; Archer & Monton 2011; Little
2012; Golle et al 2013; Lehmann et al 2013; Waller et al
2013; Hecht & Horowitz 2015; Chersini et al 2018).
Similarly, chronic health problems, such as CH, and
behaviour problems, such as fearfulness and anxiety, that
tend to increase these animals’ perceived vulnerability and
dependency also appear to enhance their desirability as
objects of human care-giving and attachment. Thus, it could
be argued that humans have selected unconsciously for
small, anxious, needy, unhealthy and vulnerable companion
animals animals with inherently compromised
welfare — because these are precisely the traits that best
satisfy their desire for things to nurture and parent.
Furthermore, this process appears to be ongoing. The evolu-
tionary trends in many dog and cat breeds seem to be toward
increasingly accentuated anthropomorphic and paedomor-
phic anatomical and behavioural features, despite — and to
some extent because of their association with compro-
mised mental and physical health (see Figure 3; Serpell
2003). Thus, the bulbous, protruding eyes and febrile
anxiety of the Chihuahua, and the hopelessly wobbly gait of
the cat with cerebellar hypoplasia, are sources of attraction
and endearment to many pet owners precisely because of
their ability to evoke care-giving responses and the resulting
cascade of neurophysiological rewards associated with
these kinds of human-animal interactions.
These psychological processes are also likely to produce
parallel effects on pet owners’ moral judgements. Causing
harm to others for personal gain is one of the most widely
held moral prohibitions in human cultures throughout the
world (Graham et al 2009; Gray et al 2012). Since human
relations with animals commonly involve harming them,
either deliberately or inadvertently, for self-interested
reasons, humans have developed a variety of psychological
techniques to reduce the moral discomfort that arises
inevitably from this. Probably the most widespread of these
techniques has been variously termed ‘moral disengage-
ment’ (Bandura 1999; Vollum et al 2004) or ‘dissonance
avoidance’ (Bastian et al 2012; Bastian & Loughnan 2017)
and it typically includes such things as dehumanising
animals (the opposite of anthropomorphism), and avoiding
social engagement with them that might otherwise lead to
anthropomorphic attributions and an increase in moral
concern for their welfare (Serpell 1996, 1999). This
phenomenon has been demonstrated in a variety of
contexts. For example, Bastian et al (2012) showed exper-
imentally that human subjects are less likely to ascribe
higher mental capacities to animals they consider appro-
priate to eat and are also more inclined to deny minds to
food animals when reminded of the link between meat and
animal suffering. The ability to identify and respond to
suffering in animals may be similarly influenced by self-
interested motives. In a study of dairy farm managers, for
instance, Šárová et al (2011) found that they consistently
underestimated the actual prevalence of lameness in their
cows, presumably because acknowledging the true preva-
lence would cause moral conflict as well as entailing poten-
tially costly remedial interventions.
This type of moral disengagement or dissonance avoidance
is not readily available to pet owners. The ostensible benefit
and purpose of pet-keeping is to provide owners with a
source of non-human social and emotional support, and this
function is partly predicated on owners attributing human-
like or child-like feelings and cognitions to their pets
(Serpell 2003). However, since this function sometimes
causes or perpetuates animal suffering, albeit indirectly, pet
owners must resort to other methods to alleviate moral
responsibility for these outcomes. Dehumanising or de-
mentalising the pet would clearly defeat the whole object of
the exercise, so other options must be found. In the cases
described in this paper, these seem to involve either denying
or minimising the welfare problems that currently exist in
companion animals, or categorising them as ‘normal’ for the
particular breeds that are affected. The tendency of pet
owners to cast themselves as benevolent animal lovers may
also help to reduce dissonance by feeding the perception that
they are really acting in the animal’s best interests by caring
© 2019 Universities Federation for Animal Welfare
Assessment of welfare in companion animals 63
for it and keeping it ‘happy’ (Bastian et al 2012). For these
reasons, asking current or former owners of such animals to
provide reliable and objective evaluations of their welfare is
likely to be as fruitless as asking dairy farmers to make
comparable assessments of their cows. More to the point,
pet-keeping is considerably more common than dairy
farming, and many if not the majority of animal advocates,
veterinarians and animal welfare scientists are probably
current or former pet owners with histories of strong
emotional attachments to companion animals (Paul &
Serpell 1993; Serpell 2005). All of which raises challenging
questions regarding the extent to which pet owners in
general, and animal welfare ‘experts’ in particular, can
achieve sufficient psychological distance from these animals
to allow truly objective assessments of their welfare.
While it helps to explain the apparent paradox of people
claiming to be animal lovers while simultaneously helping to
perpetuate severe welfare problems in the objects of their
affection, the proposed theory is not without weaknesses.
Not all companion animal breeds, for example, have been
equally affected by anthropomorphic selection pressures,
and not all pet owners are necessarily attracted to the most
anthropomorphic or infantilised breeds with the most
extreme welfare problems. Human preferences for animal
companions are clearly complicated and not easily explained
by any single all-encompassing hypothesis. Hopefully,
future studies of the psychological origins of such prefer-
ences will help to clarify the motivations underlying human
predilections for particular pets, as well as providing
direction on how to improve companion animal welfare by
modifying people’s pet-related attitudes and behaviour.
Animal Welfare 2019, 28: 57-66
doi: 10.7120/09627286.28.1.057
Figure 3
Morphological trends in the English bulldog breed illustrating the gradual exaggeration of anthropomorphic/paedomorphic features over
historical time: A) 1859; B) 1889; C) 1903; and D) 2013.
64 Serpell
Animal welfare implications
Accurately evaluating an animal’s quality of life demands a
degree of scientific objectivity. It is therefore important to
understand the factors that may limit or impede the
objective assessment of welfare. People’s attitudes to, and
relationships with, companion animals are often highly
anthropomorphic and subjective. Attributing human-like
minds and motives to these animals is probably essential to
their function as social support providers, and this in turn
has driven selection for morphological and behavioural
traits in some companion animal species/breeds that facili-
tate anthropomorphic and paedomorphic attributions. Many
of these traits are also inherently detrimental to the animals’
health and welfare. If, as suggested, the rewards of pet
ownership are partly conditional on these traits, this is likely
to create psychological resistance to addressing some of the
most pressing welfare problems that currently exist, and
which continue to be perpetuated, in these kinds of animals.
Overcoming this resistance in order to effect long-term
improvements in the health and welfare of companion
animals will require novel programmes and policies to
increase awareness among prospective pet owners that the
very attributes they find so attractive and appealing are also
those likely to cause their animals lifetimes of distress and
discomfort. It will also require pressure on the animal
breeding community to identify and de-accentuate the
various traits that contribute significantly to conformation-
related health and welfare problems. If such efforts fail, the
welfare problems of companion animals are likely to
increase in frequency and severity until they eventually
become self-limiting ie, when the financial and
emotional costs to owners of maintaining the health of their
pets exceed the psychological rewards derived from
keeping them. Efforts to arrest this process before it reaches
such an extreme and harmful endpoint would be beneficial
to the welfare of both pets and their owners.
McMullin (1982) wrote that emotive values such as attrac-
tion, feelings and emotions are alien to the work of natural
There is no reason to think that human emotionality is a
trustworthy guide to the structures of the natural world.
Indeed, there is every reason, historically speaking, to
view emotive values, as Bacon did, as potentially
distortive ‘idols’, projecting in anthropomorphic
fashion the pattern of human wants, desires, and
emotions on a world where they have no place
A major effect of human selection on the evolution of
companion animals has been to accentuate those morpho-
logical and behavioural characteristics that elicit strong
emotive values. In this sense, it could be said that many
modern companion animals are quite literally becoming
anthropomorphic or paedomorphic projections of ‘human
wants, desires and emotions.’ In consequence, these types of
animals present uniquely challenging obstacles to the
objective assessment of their quality of life. Somewhat iron-
ically, while pet-keeping may have provided many animal
welfare scientists (myself included) with the original
impetus to pursue their chosen careers, it may also obstruct
their ability to evaluate the welfare of these animals objec-
tively. Future studies of companion animal welfare, and
programmes and policies designed to change public
attitudes and behaviour towards these animals, will need to
be particularly alert to the potential difficulties created by
these sorts of inherent biases.
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... Recent research has indicated that many owners understand that brachycephalia can have adverse consequences for health but choose to keep such breeds anyway ). This may be partly due to the perceived positive behavioural traits of some of these breeds , with owners' denial of their dogs' health problems (Packer et al. 2012), or with the paradoxical appeal of disabled dogs (Sandøe et al. 2017;Serpell 2019). Either way, there is little doubt that some aspects of the appearance of brachycephalic animals is also a crucial driver of ownership (e.g. ...
... If so, then this domestic selection pressure may have acted across multiple morphological features, including eye size, forehead size and muzzle length. Such a scenario could be expected if certain types of dog have been used specifically to function as infant-or childlike companions; to look cute and to stimulate nurturant feelings and behaviour in their owners (Serpell 2002;Waller et al. 2013;Borgi & Cirulli 2016;Serpell 2019; see also Serpell 1996). If this is the case, then it is possible that genetic control of each of these features may be wholly or partially independent, having been modified together simply as a result of having been selected together (for discussions of modularity in cranial features of the dog, see: Parr et al. 2016;Curth et al. 2017). ...
Full-text available
Brachycephalic dog breeds are highly popular, yet their conformation-related disorders represent a major welfare concern. It has been suggested that the current popularity of such breeds can be explained by their cute, infant-like facial appearances. The concept of ‘kindchenschema’ refers to the observation that certain physical features of infant humans and other animals can automatically stimulate positive and nurturant feelings in adult observers. But the proposal that brachycephalic dogs possess heightened ‘kindchenschema’ facial features, even into adulthood, has never been formally investigated. Here, we hypothesised that relative muzzle shortening across a range of breeds would be associated with known ‘kindchenschema’ facial features, including a relatively larger forehead, larger eyes and smaller nose. Relative fronto-facial feature sizes in exemplar photographs of adult dogs from 42 popular breeds were measured and associated with existing data on the relative muzzle length and height-at-withers of the same breeds. Our results show that, in adulthood, shorter-muzzled breeds have relatively larger (taller) foreheads and relatively larger eyes (i.e. area of exposed eyeball relative to overall face area) than longer-muzzled breeds, and that this effect is independent of breed size. In sum, brachycephalic dog breeds do show exaggeration of some, but not all, known fronto-facial ‘kindchenschema’ features, and this may well contribute to their apparently cute appearance and to their current popularity as companion animals. We conclude that the challenge of addressing conformation-related disorders in companion dogs needs to take account of the cute, ‘kindchenschema’ looks that many owners are likely to be attracted to.
... Cultural norms and beliefs towards nonhuman animals and anthropomorphism also appear to play a role in affecting attachment to and caring for animals [12,218,219] It has been suggested that anthropomorphism is a key aspect in the formation of the human-animal bond and the practice of pet keeping, since it allows people to identify and address the needs and the psychological states of animals in a context of reciprocal beneficial interaction [149,214]. Even today anthropomorphism may have a positive role in fostering human-animal relationships and in promoting animal welfare, due to its power to affect the way in which people perceive, interact with, and respond to animals [104,[220][221][222]. ...
... Anthropomorphism has either positive or negative effects on human-animal relationships and animal well-being [69,103,104,221]. The tendency to anthropomorphize can promote positive relationships with animals, favoring attachment and empathy towards them [103,104,246]. ...
Full-text available
The human–animal relationship is ancient, complex and multifaceted. It may have either positive effects on humans and animals or poor or even negative and detrimental effects on animals or both humans and animals. A large body of literature has investigated the beneficial effects of this relationship in which both human and animals appear to gain physical and psychological benefits from living together in a reciprocated interaction. However, analyzing the literature with a different perspective it clearly emerges that not rarely are human–animal relationships characterized by different forms and levels of discomfort and suffering for animals and, in some cases, also for people. The negative physical and psychological consequences on animals’ well-being may be very nuanced and concealed, but there are situations in which the negative consequences are clear and striking, as in the case of animal violence, abuse or neglect. Empathy, attachment and anthropomorphism are human psychological mechanisms that are considered relevant for positive and healthy relationships with animals, but when dysfunctional or pathological determine physical or psychological suffering, or both, in animals as occurs in animal hoarding. The current work reviews some of the literature on the multifaceted nature of the human–animal relationship; describes the key role of empathy, attachment and anthropomorphism in human–animal relationships; seeks to depict how these psychological processes are distorted and dysfunctional in animal hoarding, with highly detrimental effects on both animal and human well-being.
... Fennell [33] explains that humans often fail to capture the expression and significance of animal-expressed indicators even if humans have played numerous roles, such as owner [70][71][72][73], trainer [74,75], experimental subject [76,77], and even colleague [78] of animals. We acknowledge the self-identification process of the panda fans as they experience and build intense attachments with these animals by exploring whether they have elevated welfare concerns and acceptance of animal-informed consent over their non-fan counterparts. ...
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Scholars argue that the ubiquity of the “virtual panda”—the panda people meet in zoos and consume as souvenirs, online memes, or videos—exists in a state of hybridity between wild and domesticated. The species has garnered a significant amount of attention because of their iconic status and because of how cute they are to an adoring crowd. However, given the degree of regard tourists have for the panda, there is a dearth of research on different types of visitors to captive panda venues. In filling this gap, we investigated (1) how deeply Chinese “fans” and “non-fans” consider the welfare of captive giant pandas, and (2) if these groups differ in their assessment of whether giant pandas consent to being used as tourist attractions. In both aims, we apply a recent model on animal welfare and animal consent to giant pandas of the Chengdu Research Base of Giant Panda Breeding.
... Although not assessed in this study, and more research is recom-mended in this field, the specific equestrian discipline has been demonstrated to affect horse management practices [32,46]. Further, anthropomorphism or the attribution of emotions to animals can positively or negatively affect welfare in different contexts [47]; specifically, when behavior is misinterpreted or viewed from a lens that does not consider individual animals' subjective experience [48,49]. Some degree of anthropomorphism may influence horse owners' attitudes toward "good quality" care for horses. ...
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Limited research has assessed the “human dimension” of horse care. The aims of this study were to (1) understand horse owner attitudes toward horse welfare when kept outdoors versus indoors and in groups versus individually, (2) compare horse owner attitudes toward horse welfare with the ways in which they house their horses, and (3) explore horse owner reasons for and challenges with their horses’ housing. Seventy-six horse owners in Prince Edward Island, Canada completed a questionnaire. Non-parametric tests and quantitative content analysis were used for data analysis. Consistent with the way horses were kept, most (82–96%) owners agreed that horses’ physical health, mental well-being, and natural living were better when kept outdoors and in groups. Fewer (64–68%) participants agreed that the horses’ standard of care was better when kept outdoors or in groups. Results show associations between owners whose attitudes suggest indoor and/or individual housing is better for horse welfare and keeping their horses indoors part-time and/or individually. Two overarching themes were developed from owners’ responses regarding their reasons and challenges related to the ways in which horses were housed: horse-centered and owner-centered care. The results indicate that horse owners’ choices about their horses’ housing correspond to beliefs about improved horse welfare.
... Moreover, as appearance is a key factor for acquiring an animal (Weiss, Miller, Mohan-Gibbons, & Vela, 2012), characteristics such as the pedomorphic attractiveness (Lorenz, 1943) of rabbits and rodents, their small size, short limbs, soft fur, big eyes, domed foreheads, flattened snouts . . . could nourish the acquisition of these animals (Serpell, 2019). Regardless of the age of the animal, humans tend to prefer animals that are aesthetically cute, vulnerable, rare, fragile, with semiprecocial rather than superprecocial offspring (Kruger, 2015), or are perceived as being sentient and sensitive, that is responsive to the human caretaker (Holland, Mead, Casey, Upjohn, & Christley, 2021). ...
Exotic animals have become popular pets, but there is little information about abandonment. Records of a network of foster homes for abandoned rabbits and rodents in Madrid (Spain) between 2008 and 2021 were analyzed. Data of 1024 animals were included, 46.4% were rabbits, 19.7% hamsters, 15.3% guinea pigs, 5.8% rats, 5.4% gerbils, 4.8% mice, and 2.6% chinchillas. Half of the animals (51.2%) were admitted with health issues, 41.3% had been abandoned, mostly in urban areas, 46.8% came from a local shelter, and 8.1% were relinquished by the owner. Only 12 animals were neutered and 8 were microchipped. The network of foster homes took care of 1009 animals (98.5%), 686 of them were adopted in an average time of 9.2 months, regardless of their health status, 15 animals died before fostering, and 323 died before adoption. Numerous rabbits and rodents are abandoned in urban areas in Madrid (Spain), very few of them are microchipped or neutered. Associations based on networks of foster homes for the adoption of abandoned rabbits and rodents can be effective, preserving animal welfare as effectively as shelters.
... Yet, developing such skills is likely to allow us to better identify our pets' own preferences and strengths. Importantly, such observational skills have the potential to prevent us from "projecting" our own human needs, preferences, intentions, and wishes unto our pets [i.e., anthropomorphism (111,112)] and to better care for them. ...
Full-text available
Human-pet relations are imbued with power imbalances, with many pets depending on humans for food and water, shelter, health care, and sheer survival. A majority of people report loving their pets and consider them to be integral family members; however, the care provided to pets varies widely and can be, in some cases, suboptimal. Yet, building more equal relations between humans and their pets could provide benefits to both parties. To achieve this increased equality and mutuality, the current paper proposes theory-based solutions. Specifically, and building on established social psychological theories, namely theories of intergroup relations and of human motivation, the current paper identifies both social and relational factors which, if socially and individually promoted, could trigger more equal and possibly mutually beneficial relationships with pets. We provide concrete examples illustrating how these factors can be maximized and promoted.
... Although these instruments make a great effort to maintain objectivity, relying on owner reports alone may be problematic as their perception of their dog can influence their reporting. Owner interpretation of how well or poorly each dog is coping is going to be largely subjective, since it will depend on the individual, and potentially biased, perceptions and beliefs of whoever is making the judgment (34). For example, when assessing their dog's body condition, owners are reported to underestimate their dog's, despite using an objective body condition scale (35). ...
Full-text available
Animal welfare monitoring is a vital part of veterinary medicine and can be challenging due to a range of factors that contribute to the perception of welfare. Tools can be used, however; there are few validated and objective methods available for veterinary and animal welfare professionals to assess and monitor the welfare of dogs over their lifetime. This study aimed to adapt a framework previously validated for other species, The Animal Welfare Assessment Grid (AWAG), for dogs and to host the tool on an accessible, easy to use online platform. Development of the AWAG for dogs involved using the scientific literature to decide which factors were relevant to score welfare in dogs and to also write the factor descriptors. The primary tool was trialed with veterinary professionals to refine and improve the AWAG. Content validity was assessed by subject matter experts by rating the validity of the factors for assessing dog welfare using the item-level content validity index (I-CVI) and scale-level content validity index based on the average method (S-CVI/Ave). Construct validity was evaluated by users of the tool scoring healthy and sick dogs, as well as healthy dogs undergoing neutering procedures. Mann Whitney tests demonstrate that the tool can differentiate between healthy and sick dogs, and healthy and healthy dogs post elective surgery. Test re-test reliability was tested by users conducting multiple assessments on individual dogs under non-changing conditions. Inter-rater reliability was assessed by two users scoring an individual dog at the same time in veterinary referral practice. Repeated measures ANOVA for test re-test and inter-rater reliability both show no statistical difference between scores and that the scores are highly correlated. This study provides evidence that the AWAG for dogs has good content and construct validity, alongside good test re-test and inter-rater reliability.
... Anthropomorphism is a device participants also used to process the Housed scenario, but although anthropomorphism has been defended in literature as a means through which those with less knowledge can form connections with animals (Buller and Morris, 2003;Daston and Mitman, 2005), it has also been cautioned against as an overly sentimental and subjective way of assessing welfare (Wynne, 2004;Serpell, 2019). Here, it played a powerful role in filling knowledge gaps with Jackson et al.: PUBLIC PREFERENCES FOR HOUSING OR GRAZING Table 3. Integration of qualitative and quantitative results, indicating convergence, complementarity, 1 expansion, and divergence in participants' views of the 3 scenarios ...
Full-text available
Global production of milk has doubled over the past 50 yr, yet dairy farming in high-income countries faces scrutiny over practices perceived to affect animal welfare. One such practice is housing dairy cows year-round without access to pasture, which is the norm across North America and increasing within Europe, despite evidence of significant public support for grazing. Diverging opinion between the farming community and the public about what animal welfare means could be a key factor; however, lack of insight into the understanding and motivations underpinning public preferences for grazing could also hamper resolution. On the basis that more information could increase engagement between parties, 60 members of the public across the United Kingdom were interviewed to understand their perspectives of 3 dairy farming scenarios incorporating different amounts of grazing or housing. Their responses were analyzed using a mixed-methods approach combining reflexive thematic analysis with linguistic analysis. The integrated results indicated participants had a dual vision of the cow, seeing her as both domestic and wild. A scenario with housing in winter and grazing in summer therefore suited her, providing both protection and naturalness, and was most associated with analytic thinking. Interviewees also confessed ignorance about the cow's needs, either deferring to others' judgment—including the cow herself—or using familiarity and anthropomorphism to assess the scenarios. This again resulted in most optimism, confidence, and positivity for housing in winter and grazing in summer, and most negativity for housing cows year-round. Grazing was aspirational, but keeping cows outside in winter was confusing and concerning. These findings offer opportunities for the dairy industry to adapt communication or systems to better meet societal views; for example, incorporating access to pasture or increasing cow choice.
Dans une société où les animaux compagnons sont intégrés au cercle familial, beaucoup d’humains les considèrent comme des membres de la famille à part entière. La recherche doit suivre cette tendance et s’attacher à appréhender les mécanismes de relations qui se construisent entre différentes espèces amenées à cohabiter. L’objectif de cette thèse est d’enrichir et d’approfondir les connaissances scientifiques sur l’éthologie du chat compagnon (Felis catus), afin de mieux appréhender ses besoins et réponses comportementales, au sein d’un environnement souvent imposé par l’humain. Les travaux restitués sont principalement centrés sur la communication interspécifique entre l’humain et le chat. Soucieux d’explorer aussi bien la perspective de l’humain que celle du chat, nous avons étudié la façon dont chacun s’exprime et décode les messages de l’autre. Ainsi, nous nous sommes intéressés à la communication vocale et visuelle entre ces deux espèces différentes qui partagent un même milieu - et doivent apprendre à communiquer efficacement pour cohabiter sereinement. Nos études ont mis en évidence que les humains utilisaient un discours spécifique pour s’adresser à leur compagnons félins, caractérisé par l’utilisation d’une voix plus aiguë. Nous avons également rapporté que les chats étaient plus attentifs à ce type de discours, mais seulement lorsqu’il était prononcé par leur compagnon humain et non par un étranger. Dans une troisième étude, nous avons observé que les chats venaient plus volontiers au contact d’un humain peu familier si celui-ci proposait un contact bimodal ou visuel, plutôt que vocal. Enfin, nous avons vu que les humains comprenaient mieux les chats dans leurs expressions bimodales et visuelles que vocales. Ainsi, bien que communément utilisée par chaque émetteur de cette communication interspécifique, la modalité vocale ne semble pas être suffisante pour la transmission et la réception d’un signal clair. Ces résultats sont discutés à la lumière des notions d’attachement, d’anthropomorphisme et de bien-être animal.
Domesticated horses ( Equus caballus ) can be exposed to a compromised welfare state and detecting a deterioration in welfare is essential to modify the animals' living conditions appropriately. This study focused on four categories of behavioural indicators, as markers of poor welfare: stereotypies, aggressiveness towards humans, unresponsiveness to the environment and hypervigilance. In the scientific literature, at least three assessment methods can be used to evaluate them: the Animal Welfare Indicators (AWIN) protocol, behavioural observations using scans and surveys. The question remains as to whether all these three methods allow an effective assessment of the four categories of behavioural indicators. To address this issue, the repeatability at a three-month interval and convergent validity of each measure (correlations between methods) were investigated on 202 horses housed in loose boxes. Overall, the repeatability and convergent validity were limited, highlighting the difficulty in assessing these indicators in horses. However, stereotypies and aggressiveness measures showed higher repeatability and convergent validity than those of unresponsiveness to the environment and hypervigilance. Behavioural observations using scans enabled the four categories of behavioural indicators to be detected more effectively. Suggestions of improvements are proposed for one-off measures such as those performed with the AWIN protocol. Regardless of the assessment method, very limited correlations were observed between the four categories of behavioural indicators, suggesting that they should all be included in a set of indicators used to assess the welfare state of horses, in conjunction with physiological and health measures.
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Current advances in technologies and treatments provide pet owners and veterinarians with more options for prolonging the life of beloved pets, but can simultaneously lead to ethical dilemmas relating to what is best for both animal and owner. Key tools for improving end-of-life outcomes include (1) sufficient training to understand the valid ethical approaches to determining when euthanasia is appropriate, (2) regular training in client communication skills, and (3) a standard end-of-life protocol that includes the use of quality of life assessment tools, euthanasia consent forms, and pet owner resources for coping with the loss of a pet. Using these tools will improve outcomes for animals and their owners and reduce the heavy burden of stress and burnout currently being experienced by the veterinary profession.
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A number of dog breeds suffer from welfare problems due to extreme phenotypes and high levels of inherited diseases but the popularity of such breeds is not declining. Using a survey of owners of two popular breeds with extreme physical features (French Bulldog and Chi-huahua), one with a high load of inherited diseases not directly related to conformation (Cavalier King Charles Spaniel), and one representing the same size range but without extreme conformation and with the same level of disease as the overall dog population (Cairn Terrier), we investigated this seeming paradox. We examined planning and motivational factors behind acquisition of the dogs, and whether levels of experienced health and behavior problems were associated with the quality of the owner-dog relationship and the intention to re-procure a dog of the same breed. Owners of each of the four breeds (750/breed) were randomly drawn from a nationwide Danish dog registry and invited to participate. Of these, 911 responded, giving a final sample of 846. There were clear differences between owners of the four breeds with respect to degree of planning prior to purchase, with owners of Chihua-huas exhibiting less. Motivations behind choice of dog were also different. Health and other breed attributes were more important to owners of Cairn Terriers, whereas the dog's personality was reported to be more important for owners of French Bulldogs and Cavalier King Charles Spaniels but less important for Chihuahua owners. Higher levels of health and behavior problems were positively associated with a closer owner-dog relationship for owners of Cavalier King Charles Spaniels and Chihuahuas but, for owners of French Bulldogs, high levels of problems were negatively associated with an intention to procure the same breed again. In light of these findings, it appears less paradoxical that people continue to buy dogs with welfare problems.
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Studies of the effects of animal-assisted interventions (AAIs) face a number of theoretical and practical challenges. Proposed theoretical processes for the effects of AAIs include those that address primarily the animal’s ability to facilitate human–human social engagement, those that emphasize animals’ apparent capacity to trigger social attachments and provide nonhuman social support, those that categorize certain animals as supernormal stimuli, those that advance a biophilia hypothesis that living organisms have an innate ability to attract and hold human attention, and those that promote an integrative biopsychosocial model. Each of these generates potentially testable hypotheses, and the field would benefit from systematic efforts to address their validity. Practical challenges to AAI research include issues of study design and methodology, the heterogeneity of both AAI recipients and the animals participating in these interventions, the welfare of these animals, and the unusual pressure from the public and media to report and publish positive findings. Such challenges need to be carefully considered in designing and implementing future studies in the field.
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A majority of people the world over eat meat, yet many of these same people experience discomfort when the meat on their plate is linked to the death of animals. We draw on this common form of moral conflict—the meat-paradox—to develop insights into the ways in which morally troublesome behaviors vanish into the commonplace and every day. Drawing on a motivational analysis, we show how societies may be shaped by attempts to resolve dissonance, in turn protecting their citizens from discomfort associated with their own moral conflicts. To achieve this, we build links between dissonance reduction, habit formation, social influence, and the emergence of social norms and detail how our analysis has implications for understanding immoral behavior and motivations underpinning dehumanization and objectification. Finally, we draw from our motivational analysis to advance new insights into the origins of prejudice and pathways through which prejudice can be maintained and resolved.
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Pets have become such a common component of modern family life that we tend to take them for granted. Nevertheless, from an evolutionary standpoint, pets present us with a paradox comparable to-though even more puzzling than-that posed by the phenomenon of adoption. In the latter case, one can at least argue that adoptive parents may derive deferred fitness benefits from the future contribution of adopted children to the family economy (Kramer, 2005). But in the case of adopted pets, such contributions appear to be minimal at best, whereas the level of investment in their care and sustenance is sometimes considerable. The paradox further intensifies when one considers that pet keeping is not confined to modern, affluent societies, but is widespread among subsistence hunters and horticulturalists whose opportunities to engage in nonfitness enhancing behavior would appear to be much more constrained. This chapter critically examines theories that purport to explain how pet keeping evolved and why it continues to persist and flourish in a wide range of cultures. Given the current state of knowledge, few firm conclusions can be drawn at this time regarding the possible adaptive consequences of pet keeping. However, it is possible to highlight future areas of research that may help to illuminate the functional significance (if any) of this intriguing behavior.
This thought-provoking book will ask what it is to be human, what to be animal, and what are the natures of the relationships between them. This is accomplished with philosophical and ethical discussions, scientific evidence and dynamic theoretical approaches. Attitudes to Animals will also encourage us to think not only of our relationships to non-human animals, but also of those to other, human, animals. This book provides a foundation that the reader can use to make ethical choices about animals. It will challenge readers to question their current views, attitudes and perspectives on animals, nature and development of the human-animal relationship. Human perspectives on the human-animal relationships reflect what we have learned, together with spoken and unspoken attitudes and assumptions, from our families, societies, media, education and employment.
The domestic dog (Canis lupus familiaris) is characterized by greatly reduced parenting investment compared with the wild type wolf (C. l. lupus) from which it is descended. Unlike wolf pups, which are reared by both parents into their second year of life, dog pups are abandoned by their mother at weaning around eight weeks of age. This relatively small parental involvement may contribute to the high pup mortality observed in dogs not living as pets. We hypothesized that people would find dog pups most attractive around weaning age when conspecific parental care is significantly reduced and pup mortality rate is high. Younger and older pups would benefit less from human intervention because in the former case the mother is providing care, and in the latter their survival is already compromised. To test this hypothesis, 51 participants rated the attractiveness of 39 black and white headshot photographs presented on a computer screen of dog pups from three breeds (Jack Russell Terrier, Cane Corso, and White Shepherd), from birth to 7 months old. In line with our hypothesis, attractiveness of Cane Corsos peaked at 6.3 weeks of age; Jack Russell Terriers’ attractiveness peaked at 7.7 weeks; and White Shepherds were most attractive at 8.3 weeks. There were also differences in attractiveness between the breeds, with Cane Corsos rated less attractive than the other two breeds. If this attractiveness motivates humans to care for the dog pups and thereby improves pup survival, this could confer significant advantages to dogs, and may contribute to our understanding of the process of domestication.
Hoarding occurs when persons accumulate animals in numbers that exceed their capacity to provide for the needs of the animals. Typical animal hoarding environments are extremely unsanitary and unhealthy, with malnutrition, disease, and death all common elements. Anecdotal reports of dogs recovered from hoarding situations have described a wide array of abnormal behaviours. The purpose of this study was to characterize the differences between dogs recovered from hoarding situations and typical pet dogs. Dogs were recruited in this case-control study through American organizations that rehome animals recovered from hoarding situations. Behavioural evaluations of the dogs were obtained from current owners/fosterers using the Canine Behavioural Assessment and Research Questionnaire (C-BARQ), which utilizes ordinal scales to rate either the intensity or frequency of the dog’s behaviours. A total of 408 formerly hoarded dogs were included in the study. Among the hoarded dogs, the male-to-female ratio was 0.82:1, and the dogs had been living in their adoptive homes for an average of 2.2 years (SD = 1.4 years) when the C-BARQ was completed. Twenty-eight behavioural outcomes were compared between formerly hoarded dogs and dogs representing a convenience sample of pets (restricted on the same breeds, age range, and rehoming status as hoarded dogs) to act as controls (n = 11,277). In comparison to the control dogs, formerly hoarded dogs were reported as displaying significantly higher scores related to fear (stranger-directed, dog-directed, and non-social; p < 0.001), sensitivity to touch (p < 0.001), attachment and attention-seeking (after spending at least 2.5 years in a new home; p < 0.001), separation-related behaviours (if there were children in the new home; p = 0.017), urination and defecation when left alone (p < 0.001), and repetitive behaviours (if they were rehomed with other dogs; p < 0.001). Conversely, hoarded dogs were found to have significantly lower scores related to aggression towards strangers (if placed in a new home with no other dogs; p = 0.016) and towards other dogs (if the hoarded dogs were older than 2 years old; p < 0.001), trainability (p < 0.001), chasing small animals (p < 0.001), excitability (only during the first 2.5 years in a new home; p < 0.001), energy (p < 0.001), dog rivalry (p < 0.001), and persistent barking (if rehomed with no other dogs; p < 0.001). Having a better understanding of the abnormal behavioural characteristics of these animals should guide the development of more specific therapeutic approaches to their rehabilitation.